High birth weight increases mammary tumorigenesis in rats

Sonia De Assis, Galam Khan, Leena Hilakivi-Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Epidemiological studies have investigated whether a high birth weight is associated with increased breast cancer risk, but the results remain inconclusive. This study was designed to determine whether high birth weight increases later susceptibility to carcinogen-induced mammary tumorigenesis in an animal model and to determine mechanisms mediating this association. Pregnant female Sprague Dawley rats were fed either a control or a high-fat diet during the extent of gestation. Maternal exposure to the high-fat diet increased pregnancy leptin levels and offspring's birth weight, but had no effect on pregnancy estradiol or insulin-like growth factor 1 levels. Changes in the offspring's mammary gland morphology and protein expression were assessed. The mammary epithelial tree of the high-birth-weight offspring was denser, contained more terminal end buds and exhibited higher number of proliferating cells. Further, their mammary glands expressed lower levels of ER-α, but higher levels of activated MAPK. No alterations in apoptosis were noted. High-birth-weight rats developed 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene-induced mammary tumors significantly earlier, and tumors grew larger than in the controls. The tumors in this group expressed higher levels of leptin receptor and activated Akt, and contained fewer apoptotic cells than those in the controls. Our results indicate that high birth weight is related to shortened latency to develop mammary tumors-perhaps reflecting an increase in activated MAPK levels and increased tumor growth-perhaps caused by a lower apoptotic response due to higher leptin receptor and activated Akt levels in the tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1537-1546
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal model
  • Birth weight
  • Breast cancer
  • Leptin

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